Young Brazilian novelist and translator Galera (Blood-Drenched Beard, 2015) returns with a slender tale of yearning and memory.
The difference between men and boys, the old witticism has it, is the price of their toys. As our story opens, a 10-year-old boy goes tearing around his Brazilian city on a much-hacked bicycle, a self-designated “elite urban cyclist” who rockets across the landscape while avoiding cars and impediments such as “an unfinished cement wall whose surface looks as though bits of human skin and flesh would adhere to it nicely.” The decades pass, and now our boy—who has made good in life while avoiding trouble as assiduously as he did that wall—has been goaded into one great adventure, scaling an unclimbed Andean peak in the company of a childhood friend. The challenge steers him into a trip down Memory Lane, revisiting kids bearing names such as Walrus, Mononucleosis, and Chrome Black. Walrus, for one, now has a dignified name, a fat wallet, and an impossibly beautiful wife, but others haven’t made out so well—and one didn’t make it out of childhood at all, in a scarring episode that puts a dark edge on any pleasant nostalgia. Galera guides his story skillfully into and out of past and present, capturing the geeky pleasures of what is now ancient technology (“It’s a 386 DX. With thirty-three megahertz and four megabytes of RAM memory”) and the touching vulnerability of young people who think they’re immortal, as opposed to adults who are afraid of their own shadows. The storyline as such is a little thin, but Galera’s larger theme would seem to be how we reckon with the things we’ve done and seen, how we negotiate the roads not taken and deal with our mountains of regrets (our protagonist having just “walked out on an atmosphere of marital acrimony that could have been resolved quickly with a little compassion and a few well-chosen words”).
An elegant meditation on the passage of time and its discontents.